Healthy Dose: How Medical Records Can Save Your Life

When my father-in-law was hospitalized recently in Florida for a serious knee infection, the nurses initially refused to let me review his medication record despite his approval. Patients must authorize family members to look at their records. I persisted and upon review of his records quickly discovered what I suspected. He was receiving large doses of narcotics to relieve his pain at night -- which caused him to become confused and disoriented. The daytime nurses insisted he wasn't receiving anything out of the ordinary -- forgetting that pain medication can have a much stronger and prolonged effect in the elderly.

By now you may be asking yourself, "What will my doctor think about me asking for copies of my medical records? Will he refuse to give them to me?" Time and again when I lecture or conduct seminars, I hear people voice a fear of antagonizing doctors and hospital personnel by requesting records. Ironically, however, when I speak to most doctors on this topic, they react with enthusiasm and relief. They understand immediately that patients who collect and study their own records and who make it their business to become well informed about their health concerns will be in a better position to join forces with them instead of worshipping them or seeing them as the enemy.

Women make most of the health-care decisions (and provide most of the care) for themselves, their children, their parents and their partners. So let's face it, we are in the best position to ask for and begin keeping records for everyone in our care. What better gift to give a child going off to college or starting out on their own than a complete medical record. Imagine the comfort an elderly parent will feel knowing that you are helping them keep track of their medical information and test results. I know that my parents, previously afraid to question their physicians, feel a tremendous piece of mind having a copy of their vital information at their fingertips to share with the many specialists and practitioners they see.

And if your doctor questions or disagrees with this newly found power, maybe it is time for you to question whether your doctor is right for you. The long-standing paradigm of the all-knowing physician as the authority figure in a white coat simply doesn't work anymore.

In the weeks to come I will teach you how to be at the center of your own health care. I will give you helpful tools and show you how to:

Get your test results and specialist's consultation reports starting with your next doctor visit.

Locate as many existing records as possible and fill in the gaps on your own.

Keep ongoing logs, journals and information sheets that contain life-saving facts that only you can provide.

Fill out an emergency health information card to carry with you at all times.

Take an active role working with your health-care team in preventing and managing health problems.

This may sound daunting, but it doesn't need to be. In the process, I promise you will become a fully informed participant in the decisions and care that could someday save your life.

My dad now carries an emergency health card in his wallet listing all his medications, allergies and medical conditions; he literally, "won't leave home without it."

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